Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Spotlight: Checking in with Rehya Stevens

California musician Rehya Stevens is a favorite here at Merry & Bright.  Since her 2018 Christmas album "Celebrate", Rehya's music has been featured in movies, television, and commercials, and she's picked up some awesome recognition along the way.  We can officially refer to her as 'award-winning artist Rehya Stevens', thanks to the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

Rehya graciously agreed to spend some time to catch up with us about this challenging year, some good things that have come her way, plans for a future Christmas album, and more.  As I've gotten to know Rehya over the past couple of years, I've learned that she is one of the kindest and most genuine people around.  I hope you enjoy my chat with Rehya, as a special treat for the 2020 holiday season.

*****  SPECIAL OFFER  *****

Just for readers of Merry & Bright!  Rehya has set up a special discount code for her music!  At her music website, use the discount code DERBINGLE for 50% off your purchase.  The code expires on Jan 15th, 2021, so hurry on over there and give yourself a special musical treat!

Photography by Katie Kennedy

Rehya Stevens website

Rehya Stevens on Facebook

Checking In with Rehya Stevens

Merry & Bright:
Hello Rehya! Thank you for spending some catch-up time with us. It’s been such a year for all of us – doing our parts to help manage the pandemic, staying safe, and you California folks have had so many terrible, tragic fires in your state. So how are you doing as we approach the end of 2020?

Rehya Stevens:  Fortunately, my home in Los Angeles is safe and sound - and everyone in my family is healthy, and Covid-19 free. I feel blessed to have made it to the close of 2020 relatively unscathed. Quarantine has had its challenges, but in comparison to what the front line workers have been dealing with, my experience is a tiny hiccup in the big picture. Right now, I’m bundled up in Northern California with my family until mid January, writing new songs for a Christmas album planned for release next October. Honestly, It’s so nice to make Christmas music in cold weather, surrounded by the beauty of nature and stillness -- (you can hear a pin drop at night up here, aside from the train that rolls through the middle of town at 4 am). My niece and nephew are doing online school, so I’m like the old guard - making sure they do their homework, feed the animals, unload the dishwasher, etc. I’m sure they love it (wink)! No one is getting away with anything around here for awhile:)

MB: How has the pandemic affected you as a musician?

RS: Well, I miss performing. We all do. I miss being onstage with colleagues. The pandemic has really highlighted how much I’ve relied on performing live as a social outlet! But the trade-off has been having incredible, deeply concentrated hours, days, weeks and months in the studio working on a new album. It’s been such a peaceful, surrendered process. I think it’s because I haven’t felt like I’m missing out on anything. Everyone is celebrating birthdays, weekends and holidays in quarantine, so there hasn’t been the need to deep clean the house, get the hair done, wax the eyebrows, fill up the car, pick up a few bottles of wine, or prepare for much of anything. It’s just been writing and recording, and keeping a keen vision of the project intact. Time with loved ones also feels richer. There’s kind of a no-fuss, distraction-free presence that I deeply appreciate, and would like to continue from now on.

MB: Well, I don’t want to make this check-in all about our 2020 worries. Let’s talk about your Christmas music. Celebrate, your album of all original Christmas songs, and “‘Tis the Season,” your single released last year, have had some great exposure through placement in various movies and tv shows, while “Jingle Jangle” and “‘Tis the Season” were featured in the Netflix movie Noelle with Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader (and it was a really great movie!). What’s it like to hear your songs in these movies?

RS: It’s a blast! I loved making those songs, and adore how they turned out production wise. When music supervisors and fans respond to the music the way I do, I feel like I’m making the music that I’m meant to be making. There are so many choices, colors and concepts to choose from when you pick up your paintbrush. I happen to love Christmas music, and feel compelled to write and record seasonal songs that might provide a fun, cozy space for our holidays throughout a lifetime. These movies are all lovely, unique, and special. It’s an honor to have my songs in a merry satchel of Christmas films that people will be watching over and over again, year after year.

MB: And “Jingle Jangle” is in a new Robert DeNiro movie, right?

RS: Yes! It’s in a movie called War with Grandpa, which hit the big screen in October. I love Robert DeNiro. His expressions are priceless! What a fun curmudgeon he is. “Jingle Jangle” is quite the buoyant contrast to his “I’m-over-it-and-I’ve-got-your-number” disposition. 

Photography by Katie Kennedy

MB: I am thrilled that your songs are featured in these movies. I love pointing them out to my family as we’re watching. You’re also on a nice little run with the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, winning the “Best in Holiday” award last year, and having “‘Tis the Season” nominated for a Holiday award this year. That’s pretty fantastic!

RS: I’ve been making music forever, it seems. I’ve swung and missed many times! No matter the outcome of any project, I just get up and make another song - another track, another album - because I’m compelled to see what’s next, and create the music I hear in my head, and express the things that are stirring in my soul. I’m well accustomed to not being on anybody’s radar, so I had no expectations! I was all the way up in the cheap seats at the HMMA’s, so when Brent Harvey announced that “Jingle Jangle” won Best in Holiday, I ran like a mad woman in high heels down what seemed like the world’s longest, winding staircase, and just barely made it to the stage in time to rattle off an impromptu acceptance speech. I was THRILLED! All these years later, and it’s this little independent Christmas album ‘that could’ that receives so much love. How cool is that? It makes me so happy!

MB: I’m not a musician or a songwriter, but I think that writing songs is hard, writing good songs even harder, and writing good Christmas songs even harder still. You’ve written some truly great Christmas songs. Can you tell us a little about your process? Do you have collaborators that are part of your magic?

RS: I’ve been writing songs since I was a child. While all the other kids were playing together in the neighborhood, or in the school yard, I was under a tree somewhere lost in my creative process. I wrote songs about my animals, how I imagined romance would feel, I wrote about my struggles, and curious things observed that I was trying to understand emotionally. I spent countless hours alone, studying my favorite songs, and trying to to find my own voice through not just singing, but through songwriting. It’s an outlet that I’ve always felt blessed to have.

My Dad is a brilliant keyboardist and composer - he worked with Bobby Caldwell, Bill Medley, Diana Ross, and was a composer for Disney’s ‘New Mickey Mouse Club’ back in the day. Music was 24/7 in our household, and my Dad instilled a work ethic in me that went very deep. He is a committed musician, and observing him taught me how to faithfully chisel away until something sounded effortless. He would tell you that I was somewhat of a “musical pest,” and borderline obsessive with my songs, but I think he knew that I was bitten pretty hard with the music bug, so he invested a lot of time, love and energy into helping me to bring my vision to life. He would sit with me, or we’d drive around together - and teach me what he knew. We’d study great songs. We’d talk about how to develop perspective in a lyric, and within a track. He taught me to not just “sing,” but to live inside the song while singing it. To imagine the story while telling it. Those formative years fine-tuned so many tools in my kit.

Today, my process is pretty simple. I bring my whole self - body, mind, heart, spirit - to my piano, and play with melodies, concepts, arrangements - and tell stories! My antenna is open day and night, tuned into song possibilities. Last December, I took a long bike ride near my home, and wrote an entire song in my head, called “The Old Red Sleigh,” which will be on the next Christmas album. I haven’t struggled with writing a song for many years. At this point, they seem to flow pretty naturally. But I enjoy the process so much, that even if a song takes weeks to complete, I trust that the outcome will be something I’ll be proud of, so I just ride the inspiration wave, and keep working on it until it’s ready to be recorded. I love writing songs - whether it’s laborious or swift, it’s what I feel I was made to do.

I’ve been writing by myself lately, but I love collaborating! Jon Kubis and I collaborated on most of the songs on Celebrate. He is absolutely brilliant, and our partnership on that project was such a blessing. I’m forever grateful to him. We had a ball writing together, and he is such an imaginative person. He has 3 kids, so his perspective as a father was such a fun thing to bring to the recipe. For example, the lyric in “‘Tis the Season” - ‘Johnny wants a scooter and a choo choo train… Mom and dad wish the kids were back in school again…’ That’s Jon’s experience all the way. I hope his kids get a good chuckle out of those songs one day, because they’re in them!

MB: So Rehya, what’s coming next? Anything exciting in the works?

RS: I can’t wait to release the new Christmas album next year, but in the meantime, I’m excited to release a few songs that I’ve written for other artists in the early part of 2021. The first is a Big Band song that I wrote with a brilliant arranger named Steve Lang. The others are pop tracks - and full of sass! I don’t want to say too much, because I want to save the surprise! I have a non-seasonal album that is 75% complete, and I’m looking for a great producer to finish the rest of it with. If that person presents themselves soon, I may release the album in the summer of 2021. My fingers and toes are crossed! I want to release this album NOW!! 

MB: Well Rehya, thank you for spending some time with us and giving us a quick update. 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but your positivity and energy are certainly infectious. Hmmm… maybe ‘infectious’ isn’t quite the right word this year 😊 Let’s go with, your music and positive outlook make every day a little brighter!

RS: Contagious? Nah… that’s no bueno. Positive is good. Unless we’re talking about a Covid test… :)

MB: Have a wonderful holiday season Rehya!

RS: You have a wonderful holiday too, Aaron. And Happy holidays to all of your readers! Hang in there everyone! We’ll get through this together. Wear your mask, and take good care of each other. This too shall pass. Xoxo

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